By Ivan G. Goldman
WBO light heavyweight champion Sergey Kovalev surely must understand his status on Showtime as a non-person. After all, he hails from Russia, where the rulers of the bad old Soviet Union practically invented non-personhood.
Sergey Kovalev Photo: Larry Levanti/Main Events
Soviet rulers used to transform former pals that they executed or sent to the Gulag into people who never existed. Their names would disappear from homegrown history books, and if anyone dared to mention these phantoms they might join them in the realm of nonexistence.
If you watched Bernard Hopkins take apart head case Beibut Shumenov this weekend in what turned out to be a darned entertaining one-sided walk-over, you saw the Showtime crew, aided by Hopkins, turn the very-much-alive Kovalev into one of those Soviet-style non-persons. The talk was all about WBC titlist Stevenson rather than you know who.
Kovalev earned his non-status for four acts of defiance: One, he dares to compete on the rival HBO network (which boasts more subscribers than Showtime), two, he’s promoted by Main Events, not Golden Boy, three, he’s a brutally efficient light heavyweight titlist who just might have what it takes to separate Hopkins and Stevenson from the three other titles. And four (this may be the most grievous of his sins), he’s not “advised” or managed by boxing godfather Al Haymon.
Consequently, the on-camera Showtime analysts, very much aware of Kovalev’s dastardly resume, came equipped with more than their usual glibness, boxing knowledge, and TV makeup. They also carried with them enough sense to know there are certain names that they’d best not mention on the telecast. Among them was Kovalev, last seen brutally dispatching well-schooled Cedric Agnew in the seventh round of a bout carried by HBO.
Kathy Duva, who runs Main Events, thought she had a deal for hard-hitting Kovalev, 24-0-1 (22 KOs), to fight Haymon-advised Adonis Stevenson, 23-1 (20 KOs), on HBO. That’s a hell of a fight. But Haymon, after checking out the light heavyweight forecast on HBO, brought his title-holder into the milder clime of Showtime, where he could face competition such as Anderzej Fonfara of Poland, 25-2 (15 KOs), set for May 24, in Montreal. And eventually, he’d be penciled in to face the winner of Hopkins-Shumenov instead of deadly non-person Kovalev.
Among Fonfara’s two defeats was a telling second-round knockout by Derrick Findley. Findley is 20-13-1 (13 KOs).
Incidentally, everything positive the Showtime on-camera crew said about Hopkins’ performance was utterly on the money. In fact, they didn’t praise him enough, no doubt fearing overkill. What a phenomenal competitor. Hopkins was quicker, smarter, and so much sharper than Shumenov, a dangerous puncher he turned into a plodding goofus. He had Shumenov fighting the wrong fight at the wrong distance all night. It was beautiful. Crazy but true: at age 49 Hopkins is still improving. It could easily be another forty years before another fighter like him comes along, so let’s enjoy him.
But clearly Team Stevenson prefers to risk being outsmarted by Hopkins over the risk of being outpunched by Kovalev.
At the end of last month an enraged Duva engaged in a revealing Twitter war with Showtime sports chief Stephen Espinoza, who apparently didn’t need to do much convincing to bring Stevenson over to his network, a refuge from destructive Kovalev. Espinoza mounted a weak Twitter defense, claiming that he’s willing to talk to anybody about a deal, blah, blah, blah, but the truth isn’t hard to spot on this one.
Not that Showtime is the eternal villain here. You can bet there are HBO fighters who take advantage of the crazy network war to avoid some of the Showtime man-eaters. These hideous business wars are termites eating away at the structure of boxing. Neither of the global corporations that own the two networks give a damn about the hideous effects their Machiavellian maneuvers have on the sport.
Another non-person on the Showtime telecast was Oscar De La Hoya, who is clearly on the verge of splitting with Golden Boy CEO Richard Schaefer. After his phenomenal victory Hopkins couldn’t decide who to praise more – Haymon or Schaefer. Yes, something’s up, Hopkins knows the details, and guess who he’s lining up with?
About that judge who had it for Shumenov over Hopkins: he should be paid in slime-covered currency. As far as I’m concerned he’s a non-person whose name should be banished from the sport.
Sick Justice: Inside the American Gulag, by New York Times best-selling author Ivan G. Goldman, was released in 2013 by Potomac Books, a University of Nebraska Press imprint. It can be purchased here.